KALISPELL — Blackfeet authorities have arrested a tribal member who has been critical of the tribe's governing council, accusing him of violating a law that protects council members from threats, slanderous material or misleading information.
Relatives of Bryon Scott Farmer say the Great Falls man was arrested Friday while attending a family gathering in Browning for doing nothing more than expressing himself.
"I felt violated by what the police did," Farmer's aunt, Carol Grant, said. "Because the only thing Bryon has done is exercise his First Amendment right, his right to freedom of speech."
Farmer was still in jail in Browning on Tuesday.
Farmer's Facebook postings have targeted the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council since a five-member majority led by Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. suspended or removed five council members and numerous tribal employees last year.
Last month, Farmer wrote he was planning something for last weekend's North American Indian Days that would show the Blackfeet will not allow corrupt leaders, illegal actions or politicians that ignore the will of the people. He said he would build a float that included pictures of Adolf Hitler and Shannon Augare, the state senator and tribal councilman who pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of DUI and fleeing a police officer.
"We promise it will be exciting and make headlines worldwide. And we can tell you we are not planning anything violent or illegal so the (tribal council) will not be able to stop us," Farmer wrote in his Facebook post.
Farmer's arrest came a day before North American Indian Days.
Blackfeet Chief Prosecutor Carl Pepion referenced Farmer's Facebook post in a June 28 court document charging him with violating the Blackfeet ordinance and signed a warrant for his arrest.
Pepion declined to comment on the matter, the newspaper reported.
Jon Ellingston, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, said the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 protects free speech, but the matter is complicated by the ordinance protecting council members from threats and slander.
"It's a complex interplay of the traditional First Amendment rights of free speech and the rights of a tribal to make their own statutes," he said.